Friday, September 21, 2012

Everyday & Every Single Night: 101 Songs featuring Celesta

If you don't know what celesta is, try playing Buddy Holly's Everyday or Velvet Underground's Sunday Morning in your head. Yes it is chimes played by a keyboard, and that floating, shimmering sound is produced by felt hammers striking metal bars. In a Baroque pop setting it brings a playful, dreamy flavor to the music (Nick Drake's Northern Sky), and when played on top of jarring guitars it often sounds eerie and uncharacteristically powerful (Stooges' Penetration). Björk uses celesta a lot, and lent it to Sigur Rós for the Takk... sessions. Indie rockers, from Eels to Death Cab For Cutie, experiment with the instrument; it can also be heard on Adele and Amy Winehouse's blockbusters.

Celesta played by Vi Petty on Buddy Holly's "Everyday", May 1957.
This playlist is a collection of songs that features celesta. Other than pop/rock, I also included a few jazz recordings (Louis Armstrong, Chet Baker, Frank Sinatra, Thelonious Monk, McCoy Tyner) and movie soundtracks (John Williams's Hedwig's Theme for Harry Potter). Some albums feature this instrument on many tracks, but I only selected one track per album.

Get this collection in one Spotify playlist: Celesta (Celeste) in Pop, Jazz & Soundtracks (101 tracks from 101 albums, total time: 6 hours). Ctrl (CMD) + G to browse in album view. I started this playlist just because I discovered the excellent Buddy Holly box-set Not Fade Away: The Complete Studio Recordings And More on Spotify, and wanted to build something around it. The end result is much more fun than I expected. I look forward to make more playlists for uncommon instruments when I can find the time.

For celesta used in classical music, check out this NPR post.

For those who want the tracklist in text:
  • Buddy Holly – Everyday
  • Fiona Apple – Every Single Night
  • Danger Mouse – The Rose With The Broken Neck - feat. Jack White
  • Eels – Flyswatter
  • Cass McCombs – The Lonely Doll
  • Death Cab for Cutie – Title and Registration
  • Nick Drake – Northern Sky
  • Sigur Ros – Sé Lest
  • Louis Armstrong – Someday You'll Be Sorry
  • Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five – Basin Street Blues
  • Sufjan Stevens – Sister Winter
  • The Beach Boys – Girl Don't Tell Me
  • Daniel Johnston – Syrup Of Tears
  • Ben Harper – When She Believes
  • Iggy & The Stooges – Penetration
  • Deerhoof – The Tears and Music of Love
  • Beck – Strange Invitation
  • Amy Winehouse – Tears Dry On Their Own
  • Adele – First Love (album)
  • The National – Conversation 16
  • The Bees – The Start
  • James Brown – America Is My Home
  • Bruce Springsteen – American Land
  • The Waterboys – Trumpets
  • Richard Hawley – For Your Lover Give Some Time
  • Björk – Mother Heroic
  • Björk – The Comet Song 
  • Frank Sinatra – I'll Never Smile Again
  • Frank Sinatra – Pennies From Heaven
  • Yeasayer – Damaged Goods
  • The Decemberists – O New England
  • Judy Collins – Houses
  • Kate Bush – Wuthering Heights
  • Keith Richards – Hate It When You Leave
  • Tracey Thorn – By Piccadilly Station I Sat Down And Wept
  • Gene Wilder – Pure Imagination
  • Tracey Thorn – Come On Home To Me
  • Stevie Wonder – As If You Read My Mind
  • Mink DeVille – Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl
  • Tom Waits – Ice Cream Man
  • The Moody Blues – Emily's Song
  • Harry Potter Soundtrack – Hedwig's Theme
  • Heidi Berry – One-String Violin
  • Björk – The Boho Dance
  • Björk – Sun In My Mouth
  • Robert Forster – Demon Days
  • Dido – Look No Further
  • Elvis Costello And The Attractions – All This Useless Beauty
  • Paul Simon – Hurricane Eye
  • Doveman – Hurricane
  • Paul Simon – Questions for the Angels
  • Rufus Wainwright – Beauty Mark
  • Whitney Houston – I Was Made To Love Him
  • Eric Burdon & the Animals – White Houses
  • Jarvis Cocker – Big Julie
  • Richard Hawley – I'm Looking For Someone To Find Me
  • Fiona Apple – Tymps (The Sick in the Head Song)
  • Passion Pit – Where We Belong
  • Alanis Morissette – Tapes
  • Jason Mraz – Who Needs Shelter
  • Beirut – Forks And Knives (La Fête)
  • John Mayer – Who Says
  • Pearls Before Swine – Man In The Tree
  • The Association – Cherish
  • Thelonious Monk – Pannonica (Incomplete)
  • The Polyphonic Spree – Lithium
  • Frank Zappa – Absolutely Free
  • U2 – Bad
  • McCoy Tyner – Once I Loved (O Amor Em Paz)
  • Carole King – Growing Away From Me
  • John Denver – Aspenglow
  • Stereolab – Vonal Declosion
  • Tim Buckley – Song Of The Magician
  • My Brightest Diamond – Something of an End
  • Ryan Adams – Wild Flowers
  • Giovanca – On My Way
  • Eurythmics – Adrian
  • Badly Drawn Boy – Stockport
  • Mavis Staples – You Are Not Alone
  • Fad Gadget – Collapsing New People
  • Jamie Lidell – Compass
  • The Monkees – It's Nice To Be With You
  • Charlotte Gainsbourg – In The End
  • Cat Stevens – (Remember The Days Of The) Old Schoolyard
  • Carly Simon – Fairweather Father
  • Christina Aguilera – All I Need
  • Lionel Richie – You Mean More To Me
  • Jamie Cullum – Mixtape
  • Marvin Gaye – Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)
  • Perry Keyes – Poor Boy
  • Chet Baker – My Ideal
  • Madeleine Peyroux – Blue Alert
  • Clare & The Reasons – Nothing/Nowhere
  • Divine Fits – Flaggin A Ride
  • Bic Runga – Music And Light
  • Amanda Palmer – What's The Use Of Wondrin
  • Roberta Flack – Won't You Be My Neighbor?
  • Add N To x – The Regent Is Dead
  • Aluminium – Forever For Her (Four Tet Remix)
  • Paul Weller – Night Lights
  • The Velvet Underground – Sunday Morning


  1. I know this was written a few years ago but there's a tune that should be added to this list that's the first one that got me into celesta. It's called "New Potato Caboose" by the Grateful Dead.

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